Food banks brace for an uptick in demand as federal programs end

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MADISON Wis (CBS 58) -- Food banks across the state are bracing for increased need as some programs that help those with food insecurity will soon lose federal funding.

Feeding people during the pandemic continues to be a challenge for food pantries as most are doubling the amount of food they distribute compared to 2019.

Maureen Fitzgerald, VP of Government Relations for Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, said while it was difficult to adjust to the uptick in demand, federal funding helped.

“The need was great, but there wasn’t a catastrophe,” Fitzgerald said. “It was something we could meet and we worked every day to make sure people were fed throughout the state.”

The organization is now bracing for a "COVID cliff," Fitzgerald said. It’s the point when federal programs end or begin to scale back to pre-pandemic levels, leaving a need for supplies.

The USDA will permanently end its Farmers to Families Food Box Program at the end of May. The program, which bought meat, dairy and produce from farmers and served to hungry families, was designed to be temporary during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some organizations fear without this program in place, demand will soar at their locations.

“We make purchases six months in advance and if there are big changes last minute, it could be a pretty big surprise,” said Amber Duddy, executive director, Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin.

Community Action Coalition differs from other organizations since they don’t typically get as much support from the federal government to purchase food and instead typically rely on fundraising.

“If funding and these programs don’t keep up, there’s going to be a huge gap in the amount of food,” Duddy said.

Other programs such as free and reduced meals and SNAP benefits also received additional funding from the federal government. Both are anticipated continue to see extra funding until the end of the year, leaving food banks time to prepare.

“We make sure when these things happen, we have the ability to weather them, but it doesn’t mean it’s not hard,” Michelle Orge, President/CEO, Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin.

Hunger organizations are also calling on lawmakers to recognize inequities in food security that occurred before Covid and those will remain despite things inching back to normal.

“It’s also looking at lawmakers and saying we want you to know these programs helped and once they end, people are still going to be in need,” Fitzgerald said.

Many are calling on lawmakers to support a proposal introduced by Gov. Tony Evers which connects food pantries with farmers. The proposal seeks $20 million for the initiative in part of Evers’ budget request. The Joint Finance Committee has yet to consider the proposal while crafting the next spending plan for the state.

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